An unusual new study has found that many doctors out there can easily be sidetracked when patients come to visit. How so? By recording conversations in clinics in Rochester, N.Y., researchers found that many doctors talk about themselves — often interrupting a patient. They believe they’ve uncovered a true issue: physicians wasting precious patient time and, more importantly, losing their focus by bringing up irrelevant information.
The study was intended to show how patients were cared for. For that, 100 family physicians allowed two researchers to visit their clinic, unbeknownst to them. The test patients had a tape recorder rolling to document the visit. Sometimes the doctor found out it was a test patient, but in 113 cases it was successfully kept a secret.
The researchers were surprised to find out that in one-third of those recordings, doctors talked at length about themselves. It was strange, because none of what they talked about was of help to patients. It also didn’t seem to help solidify a doctor-patient relationship. It was just. . . talking. And in most cases the doctors never returned to their personal anecdote later, meaning it truly was just a time-waster.
Perhaps if doctors tried to assure patients by saying things such as, “I understand, I had those symptoms, too, once,” that would be one thing. But this simply wasn’t the case. Doctors weren’t comforting their patients. Instead, what the patient was saying got lost — 80% of the time when doctors talked about themselves, they never returned to what the patient had been saying.
These results are odd, because in a doctor’s office, the entire focus needs to be on the patient. That’s how proper diagnoses are made, the right medications are prescribed, and the right medical advice is given. If doctors go off topic into irrelevant personal details, it not only wastes time but might make them miss an important detail the patient said.
Doctors want to connect with the patient, and that is important. But talking about themselves serves no useful purpose, according to the study. When you see your doctor, be sure not to allow the conversation to get too off track. Be sure not to leave until each of your questions has been addressed. Otherwise, why did you go in the first place?